It's Only a Mistake

Popup street sign with awesome this way, and less awesome that way
Image credit: photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

Do you find it hard to admit to yourself, or to others, that you made a mistake? Or, when you do make a mistake, do you beat yourself up mercilessly and give yourself no slack for it? Do you judge others who make mistakes and give little space for their humanity? 

The reality which none of us like to admit is that all of us make mistakes. If we didn’t, that would mean that we were perfect, and perfectionism does not exist here on earth. We’re all human. Some of us may attempt to strive for perfection, however this is an unrealistic goal. 

It Wasn’t Me

So many of my clients, and the people that I come in contact with, struggle with admitting mistakes. Some may be challenged by either judging one’s self, or others, for mistakes, or by not being able to take ownership of one’s own mistakes.

Do you find yourself blaming others for your mistakes? 

  • I would not have made that mistake if…
  • It’s not my fault. If my boss didn’t …
  • If only my partner hadn’t…

Do you measure your self worth by the number of mistakes you make, or not make? Is it hard to simply own a mistake and say, 

  • “I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better next time.”

Being the Bigger Person

I was inspired to write this article when I heard about the mistake that was made recently on the Oscars announcing the incorrect best picture of the year. The graciousness of the “La La Land” Producer, Jordan Horowitz, impressed many.

When he was informed that the coveted award was not his, he simply stated, “I’m sorry, there’s a mistake, ‘Moonlight’, you guys won best picture. I’m going to be very proud to hand this to my friends from, ‘Moonlight.’”

He didn’t seek someone to blame, but instead acted incredibly courteous in a moment that had to have brought much disappointment to him, and the rest of the cast. Would you, or I, have been able to act with the same cordiality in such a moment? That may be determined, in part, by the environment, and the people, who raised us.

Placing Blame

What we were taught as a child, an adolescent, or an adult, about mistakes helps to shape our beliefs about them. We must first consider, when growing up, what we were taught about mistakes. Was it communicated verbally, or non-verbally, that it is okay and human to make a mistake? Or were you ridiculed, or punished, for them? 

Methods in which we might judge ourselves, or others, may be overt, or covert, and may also be quite subtle to the point that we aren’t aware of our behavior. 

Oops, I made a mistake 

As an adult do you find that the people in your life—partner, friend, or family, have little tolerance for mistakes and you are always apologizing, explaining, or feeling terrible or not good enough?  Do you recognize any of these ways of communicating that a mistake has occurred? Consider whether you think such words to yourself, say them to others, or someone in your life says something like this to you.

  • “I can’t believe I just did that.”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “I thought you knew better.”

Some of us may have been raised with parents who were perfectionistic, and/or suffered with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Thus, making mistakes was unacceptable and perhaps even punishable offenses. Perhaps it prompted us to hide, or deny, mistakes when we made them.

In the past, I’ve resisted admitting my imperfections, especially to people who were close to me personally. In order to do this, I’ve had to learn to admit first to myself when I’ve been at fault and allow myself to be so—to remind myself constantly that being at fault doesn’t represent a character flaw.

Alex Lickerman, M.D., Psychology Today.

Our Mistakes Don’t Make Us

Some of us measure our self worth by how many, or how little, mistakes we make. For some of us, we are hard on ourselves if we make a mistake, or if we can’t bear feeling badly about the error we make excuses, over explain, or become defensive.

Sometimes if we explore the origins of our perspective regarding mistakes, we can begin to change our pattern of thinking. For some of us we may have had highly critical parents, teachers, extended family, or clergy who tended to point out our mistakes and rarely pointed out our accomplishments. 

The Blame Game

It is not uncommon, then, that we may, as an adult choose a partner in life who is reminiscent to these individuals, which further reinforces the belief that making mistakes is not okay. Often this choice is unconscious. 

Our view of mistakes, however, may also be more rooted in our adulthood. Having a highly critical partner, or friend, or boss, who may yell, ridicule, and criticize, when we make a mistake, may have shaped our thoughts on mistakes. These kinds of experiences help to shape how comfortable, or how uncomfortable, we are with our own mistakes and those of others. 

  • If we have difficulty forgiving ourselves for a mistake, it’s common to have difficulty forgiving others.
  • We might become angry if they don’t accept our apology as we expect they “should”, especially if we don’t believe our mistake warranted the other person’s response.
  • We might apologize, but it’s not really sincere.

Tips on Accepting Mistakes

Many believe that admitting mistakes makes us weak. In reality this action could build loyalty and trust in a relationship. It’s an admission of being human. Being able to release self-righteousness, or self-blame, is the first step in accepting mistakes and moving on from them.

Some thoughts may be deeply rooted in our core, and it’s not easy to shift this on our own, but there are ways to begin to change our mindset. Practicing these steps could help to break the seemingly natural cycle around beliefs regarding mistakes, and the feelings that come along with it. 

  • Start to become mindful of when you make a mistake, and how you emotionally respond to it.
  • Note your, “go to”, phrases, or comments, that you repeat to yourself such as, “It’s all my fault.” Or “That was so dumb.”
  • Try to shift the thought. Turn it around and come up with a phrase that resonates for you such as, “It’s okay, I’m okay.”
  • Take a deep breath, and bring those words into one’s being. Start to practice that with small mistakes, like we all make everyday, until the new thought becomes automatic.
  • If you struggle more with judgment of others about mistakes, then practice the same thing, “It’s okay, she’s okay.”

Break the Pattern 

If you struggle with accepting your mistakes, or those of others, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance & Counseling located on Long Island, can help.

Our licensed therapists have helped many people discover positive ways of reducing self-blame and work through uncomfortable feelings surrounding deeply rooted issues. 

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